Beheaded stuffed peppers, graveyard chocolate hummus, and creepy crawly pumpkin bars were among the Halloween treats created by students at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston (UTHealth) School of Dentistry who were learning how to cook as part of a new program in partnership with the UTHealth School of Public Health.
The culinary dentistry classes, among the first of their kind in the country, launched in October as part of the fall clinical curriculum to teach second-year dental students how food and nutrition are integral to oral and overall health. They are an extension of the School of Public Health Nourish Program’s eight-week culinary nutrition course, led by trained chef dietitians.
“Combining nutrition with cooking is such an important skill to learn, so this program is ideal for our students. We’re always talking about what foods to eat or not to eat to both protect your teeth and look after your health more generally. This is the perfect way for students to gain greater knowledge and expertise to share with our patients,” said John Valenza, DDS, dean of the UTHealth School of Dentistry.
“It’s all about providing students with the knowledge, techniques, and inspiration to be creative and healthy in the kitchen. We’re delighted to be sharing this with dental students, who treat people of all ages daily and have a tremendous opportunity to influence their eating habits and instigate lasting behavioral change,” said Laura Moore, MEd, RD, Nourish Program director at the Michael & Susan Dell Center for Healthy Living at the School of Public Health.
The consumption of excessive amounts of added sugars causes tooth decay and can lead to weight gain and debilitating conditions such as type 2 diabetes. Yet holidays like Halloween often focus on such sweet treats. But with creativity and effort, the school reports, healthier alternatives are available for celebrating the occasion.
“The food has to taste great. That’s a given. But making it visually appealing is also important, especially at celebrations like Halloween. People shouldn’t feel like they’re missing out by being healthy,” said dietetic intern Clarissa Ferris, who has been helping supervise the classes.
“Carving your bell peppers like pumpkins before filling them with cauliflower rice and black beans or making apple tombstones for the chocolate hummus are just a couple of examples. Vegetables and fruit are so versatile for making shapes, and instead of icing the pumpkin bars, you can decorate them with fruit purees,” said Ferris.
When it comes to beverages, thinking outside the box also is key.
“You could brew a spiced apple tea or mix up a bloody kale smoothie. Something really simple like adding pomegranate seeds to sparkling water can make all the difference,” Ferris said.
“There’s no better combination than learning and having fun. Students are not just sitting in the classroom but getting practical experience. I’m thrilled, and it will be fascinating to see how the learning helps in a patient setting,” said Valenza. “I can certainly see parents being very receptive, and what better time to start than Halloween? These options look amazing and taste delicious.”